Wilfred Owen - Futility

  • Created by: mumble022
  • Created on: 15-03-16 08:54


Aged 18, Wilfred Owen joined the army in 1915. He hadn't been serving long before he was sent to a hospital in Edinburgh to be treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. There he met the well known poet and writer Siegfried Sassoon.
Sassoon had encouraged Owen to put more of his own personal experiences into his poetry and he had also turned him against war. Owen now saw the war as a struggle between Imperial powers looking to expand their lands overseas.

Futility represents this sudden change from patriotic hope to despair.

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Form and Structure

Futility is written in 14 lines like a sonnet. Yet it is not structured like one.

This poem has two seven-line stanzas. The two stanza structure reflects the poem's change in tone, from hope and confidence to despair.

The poem begins with a statement that suggests an action is happening now. The sun is seen as something positive. The second stanza begins with a different statement. The narrator is no longer thinking of the soldier who is dying, but life and death generally. We can therefore work out that the man has died and the sun has made no difference. The sun then becomes the object of the poet's anger.

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Language and Imagery

The title of the poem is blunt, simple and strong. The poem is going to be very clear and straightforward. We can call this, "bleak realism" - he is being direct about his grief and anger.
The key image is the sun. In the first stanza this is a positive force and the imagery is all about waking up. Words such as, "move him," "gently," "whispering," "rouse" all suggest a soft, motherly force. The sun is "kind" and "old". In the second stanza the image of the sun becomes negative - "cold star". This represents the contradiction between the star, which is hot and the description cold. This is called an oxymoron. Showing that although the sun may be warm, it has no feelings. The image also reminds us that when people die, they go cold. The poet now only sees "fatuous sunbeams" working away. (Fatuous means 'stupid but thinking you are clever)
The half-rhymes bring the poem together. For example in stanza one, sun-sown, once-France. There are full rhymes at the ends of stanzas.

By creating a pattern of rhymes that are not exact, however, he is expressing a sense of broken harmony beneath a seemingly soft surface.

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Attitudes, Themes and Ideas

The poem is an elegy, something written to remember someone who has died. Traditionally these are long poems that are a list of the deeds of the dead person. However in contrast, Owen's poem is short and compact. There is no reason to celebrate a life. There is no hope anywhere. Life is "futile". The poem about his friend becomes an elegy for all mankind.

The anger comes through personal knowledge of the dead man's peaceful past. It is made much stronger by the way Owen uses metaphors to apply this to all life. For example, "fields half-sown" which refers both to the farm the dead man grew up on and the soldiers being cut down in battle.

Owen does not reach any conclusions in the poem. Instead he expresses his anger in a series of rhetorical questions at the end of lines. (11,12,13,14) He is angry not just at the war or the sun, but also at the whole creation as well.

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this poem is very close in theme and also in imagery. Where Owen draws on farming to suggest lives being grown and cut down, Margaret Postgate Cole builds her poem around the central image of the tree. The contrast between the two are mainly in form, structure and tone. Sadness rather than anger seems to be the strongest feeling.


this poem is also set in the First World War and shares some of the imagery (waking and clods of earth). However Owen's is a first-person reflection while Hughes' work is a dramatic re-enactment. Bayonet charge is active, full of fear but also full of purpose. (Look at all the -I got words) In Owen's poem, the only action is waking that never happens. All purpose is gone.

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"Futility" - Title.

The title originally comes from the Latin to mean easily broken or worthless.

The body of the young soldier that the poem describes has clearly been broken by war, but is not meaning that his life is worthless and the poem continues to remind the reader that it is exactly the opposite.

The word "futile" can also suggest something that is trifling or unimportant. From one aspect the poem may be presenting that life is futile in this sense. Yet the purpose of the poem is actually against such a view. The speaker in the poem by not merely raises the possibility of it, rather than properly defining it.

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General Points

Third Person perspective.

Set during World War One in France.

The poem uses the soldier to consider the point of life being created if it can be destroyed so easily.

Negative view on war.

Each stanza begins with a command.

Personification- nature is powerful but hopeless.

Direct language addressing the reader.

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